Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Kent Fitness League 2014/15: Oxleas Wood

The 2014/15 Kent Fitness League season consists of a series of seven 5-6 mile cross-country races over the winter months and is only open to non-elite runners who are members of one the 18 affiliated clubs. My first claim club, SLGR, are not one of the league's affiliated clubs, but I am able to take part in the series by running for my second claim club, Dartford Harriers (Hoops!).

the famous 'hoops' vest [photo:7t]

The 2014/15 series had started before I had joined Dartford Harriers so I was not eligible to enter the first two races (Knole Park / Swanley Park). So the third race of the series, hosted by Plumstead Runners at Oxleas Wood became my first appearance in the famous hoops vest! Oxleas Wood is one of the few remaining ancient deciduous forests in the Royal Borough of Greenwich and is nestled onto the southern face of Shooters Hill.

On the day, I arrived at the venue, parked on Rochester Way (the old A2) and headed up towards the cafe, which is where the rest of the Harriers had planned to meet. The weather was a bit nippy, but actually quite mild considering this race was held in mid-November. And it rained non-stop for the entire morning.

I had my name added to the official list of Dartford Harriers runners that were competing on the day and after a quick pit-stop in the toilets behind the cafe, I joined some of the other Hoops for a warm up on part of the course within the woods. Returning to the cafe covered in mud, I dropped off my completely non-waterproof jacket and headed down towards the start line.

The start was at the lowest point of the wide triangular shaped grass area called Oxleas Meadows which conceals an underground reservoir that provides fresh water to the local area. As I looked around and saw a lot of runners wearing spikes, I did start to worry that I could find myself on the wrong end of one of them in the stampede through the waterlogged grass that followed when the race was started at 11am sharp.

the official colours of the eighteen affiliated clubs [image: swanley and district ac]

With this thought in my head, I probably took too much of a cautious approach at the start and as the course took us all to the top of the hill before swinging us around and sending us back down it, I found that I was miles adrift from where I thought I might be in the pack.

A minute or so later the course crossed over the footpath and into the western half of the wood which involved everything you might expect to find on a course that goes through the woods. There were tree roots, stones, logs across the path, branches and twigs trying to poke your eyes out. There were slippery paths that went up and down as well as twisting all around. There were mini streams running down the inclines, there was even some steps to run down, then there were puddles and plenty of MUD - this is cross-country after all!

The first half of the wood contained a few steep inclines and eventually the course popped out of the western half of the woods, up another incline, and round the back of the cafe before heading down into the eastern section of the woods. This section featured more of the same features and after lots of splashing (some of those puddles were a lot deeper than they looked!), twisting, sliding and weaving, the half-way point was reached.

Rain and glasses don't mix very well (I really should try wearing a cap) so I found myself with reduced vision due to them being covered in rain water. Common sense probably suggests taking them off, but the world is just as blurry without them. So I ended up just leaving them on and doing my best to negotiate the course without falling over and hurting myself. As the race progressed I was slowly moving through the field, but not quite enough to give me a great finishing time and position.

part way through lap 1 (let's not talk about my facial expression!) [photo:brian page]

The second half of the race was a repeat of the first lap, and it was back onto the waterlogged grass for second helping of the opening hill (which felt steeper now that the fatigue had begun to set in), down the hill and back through both sections of the woods with the other tough incline in between them. Once reaching the exit of the eastern woods for a second time, a friendly marshal pointed in the direction of the finish - at least I think they did, I couldn't actually see much at all at this point.

Somehow I managed to find my way towards the finish, but I was really just winging it and hoping for the best! I made out an image of what looked like the finish area so headed straight for it. Thankfully it was the finish and once across the line and in the funnel I was marked in and handed a raffle ticket with my finish number on. I had to give this to my team captain so he could collate our results.

I met up with a few of the other Harriers runners and headed back up towards the cafe to retrieve my jacket. By this stage I was covered in mud, shivering uncontrollably and putting on a dripping wet, completely non-waterproof jacket didn't really help much. So instead of hanging around for a tea and chat, I sensibly got myself back to the car where I put the heating on full blast and got changed into some dry clothes.

It turns out that one of my Dartford Harriers team mates won the race [results] in what must have been quite an exciting finish as the top three were separated by only 3 seconds. We were also first placed team overall. My own run was somewhat disappointing as I finished way back in 82nd position out of 384 runners. Such is the strength of the team, I was way off being in with a chance to actually contribute to the team's overall score.

post-run in the car trying to get warm (it took twelve attempts to take a photo that wasn't blurry due to me shivering)

It was great to finally be able to participate in the league and I really felt a sense of pride in wearing the team's colours - it's difficult not to feel this pride when you consider the history of the Dartford Harriers goes back to 1922 and has produced some amazing athletes. I really hope I can make it to the rest of this season's Kent Fitness League races and I hope that I can improve on this performance as the season progresses.


Sunday, 23 November 2014

Dartford parkrun 17 - grey skies, the mayor and the dartford half-marathon 2015

At Dartford parkrun event 17 I was feeling a little under the weather. I had had a few days off after catching the world's worst bug. Some people probably wouldn't have run, but this is me and it was parkrunday, so of course I just got on with it.

It rained, it stopped, it rained, it stopped. 9am came around, we ran the course. The rain held off, but came down a little heavier just as the last few runners were coming back in. Then it stopped again. My jumper which I had hung on the fence was now pretty wet.

The mayor of Dartford came along to run at the event and wore a Dartford Half Marathon t-shirt to help to promote 2015's event. I've never run the Dartford half, but I have signed up for the 2015 event and I can't wait! It is usually held in the summer, but from 2015 it will take place in March, which should work well for anyone training for the VMLM.

There is a little article on the dartfordonline webpage about the mayor's visit which also gives some more details about the half marathon.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Goudhurst junior parkrun (#1)

When I heard that there would be a junior parkrun in the attractive village of Goudhurst my initial reaction was something along the lines of ‘but that’s in the middle of nowhere!’. While that is true, it does sit quite nicely in between a number of established Kent 5k parkrun venues. Tonbridge and Tunbridge Wells are both only a 20 minute drive away, Maidstone is a little further at 27 minutes, while Ashford is furthest of the four at about 40 minutes.

typical tudor building in goudhurst [photo:7t]

Travelling by public transport alone is virtually impossible. There used to be a train station in Goudhurst but this was closed in 1961 and demolished a few years later. The closest remaining train station is Marden (Kent), but it is over 5 miles away from Goudhurst. The main problem is that the two bus services that run through Goudhurst (the 26 and the 297) do not run on Sundays. So unless you live very close, you'll have to rely on your own vehicle or look into the possibility of getting a taxi from Marden or Tunbridge Wells train stations, which all seems a little extreme for a 2 kilometre run.

the church tower [photo:7t]

We drove our 4 year old junior runner and her two cousins in the car from Dartford and it took about an hour door-to-door. The officially listed car parking facilities are as follows; behind Goudhurst Village Hall or at Goudhurst Primary School. There is also some space to park on Back Lane, but it is pretty narrow. Goudhurst junior parkrun takes place on The Glebe Field. This open grass area is adjacent to the grounds of St. Mary's Church, which sits at the highest point of the village.

the church [photo:7t]

The church records date back to 1119 but it is thought that the church itself dates back further than this. It is also the most prominent landmark of the village and the church tower is open on weekend afternoons between Easter and mid-July where visitors can admire the stunning view across the Weald of Kent. There are toilet and cafĂ© facilities in the Church Rooms right next to the field.

ready to go? [photo:7t]

An important point I will highlight again is that Junior parkruns, while all on Sundays, do not all have the same start time and not all venues put on events every week. The point I'm trying to make here is to spend some time checking these details on each venue’s website before you travel. Goudhurst junior parkrun starts at 9.45am, which is probably better than 9am as I imagine most runners will be travelling from outside of the village and the extra time will most likely be appreciated.

and they're off [photo:dani]

I would usually have had a freedom run before the event got underway, but we were a little later than I had planned due to the A21 being closed for roadworks. So we spent a bit of time taking photos - my daughter even had a go with the DSLR and produced a couple of great photos of her cousins. The run was preceded by a short briefing and a warm up. My daughter really seems to enjoy the warm up, so I'm pleased that they take the time to do it.

looks like fun [photo:dani]

The course configuration produces the most laps we have encountered to date on our junior parkrun tour – this one takes place over four 500 metre laps all within the boundaries of the field. The advantage of this is that it is very compact and parents are always within around 100 metres of their children. The downsides of this layout are; keeping track of how many laps each child has completed; and keeping the younger (or slower) children motivated to complete all four laps when they see that the other children have already stopped running.

i don't always receive an invite to run, but when i do i always accept [photo:dani]

The course is flat but smaller legs may notice the tiny change in gradient along the length of the football field. It takes place on a mixture of grass and a gravelly path, so is likely to be a bit mucky during the winter months, but we all like playing in the mud, right? (I do). It also worth noting that the ground underfoot is very uneven and bumpy whilst running across the football pitch, and in the winter months you'll probably get wet feet so take a spare pair of shoes and socks along.

pretty much spot on with our synchronised strides [photo:dani]

When viewed from the air the course looks a bit like a curvy Pac-Man (do kids these days know who Pac-Man is??). The field itself is only just larger than the child sized football field that occupies the centre of it. The 2k route starts on the southern edge and weaves its way along and across the football pitch and around the posts of the western goal before moving onto the northern and western footpaths until they lead back around to the start/finish area.

it's sometimes nice to just have a bit of fun [photo:dani]

I was lucky enough to be issued with an invite to join Matilda on her run today. Once we started the second lap, the small cones marking the route became objects that we had to hurdle which was great fun. About two-and-a-half laps in, she needed a short walking break. She soon got going again, but when she reached the end of lap 3 and saw that most of the other children had finished running, she also wanted to stop. After a bit of encouragement, she continued with the final lap. Towards the end, she found a huge burst of energy and sprinted away in the direction of the cheering volunteers, runners and parents at the finish funnel.

her seventh junior parkrun (sixth venue) complete [photo:dani]

After the run, I managed to squeeze in my freedom run while my daughter, wife, niece and nephew headed off to the Church Rooms where there were complimentary drinks and cakes for all of today's participants, parents, supporters and volunteers. The Church Rooms boast a fantastic view across the Weald of Kent and the results were processed while everyone took the opportunity to socialise over the fantastic chocolate brownies.

the view from the church rooms [photo:dani]

It's a lovely little village and it really feels like it's going to be a very close knit community - and maybe even more so than some other events because of its rural location.

Saturday, 15 November 2014

Dartford parkrun 16 - my little helper, pacers and the elite athlete

This event marked Dartford parkrun's first 'pacer's day', and it started in the usual way except that I had brought my nephew with me to assist in the course setup. Plus when we turned up we had a new setup companion in the shape of the current second fastest SLGR parkrunner, Adam. So we headed off and left Richey (ED) to focus on the organising pacers.

stones corner [photo:dani]

I don't know how many people noticed, but I actually forgot to put one of the course arrows in place. Luckily we had a marshal on hand who was in position to direct the runners. It was another slightly disappointing run for me today; yes I stayed under 20 minutes, but I'm a about 40 seconds off the times I was running before my recent foot issues.

After the run, I took up my usual role of barcode scanner and once everyone had been accounted for, I handed over the scanner and tokens to the very able post-run team while I coordinated the signage collection and packed it away our lovely storage container, all ready for event 17.

seeing this makes me so happy [photo:dani]

Meanwhile, over at the Dartford Harriers track, everyone was a little excited by the presence of Commonwealth Games 2014 double silver medalist and European champs 2014 double gold medalist Adam Gemili. He was in town for an appearance at the Dartford town centre Christmas lights 'Big Switch On' event and was doing a spot of training at the track beforehand.

Then, just after the results had been processed, the chairman of Dartford Harriers AC called me and Richey over to have our photo taken with him. He was in the middle of a training session, but was very happy to spend a little time posing with us.

richey estcourt, steven stockwell (me), adam gemili, tony durey [photo:anoushka johnson]

This week's event marked a new record in efficiency - We had all the kit packed away by 10am and the results were processed and uploaded by 10.10am. It feels like we're getting pretty slick with all this (apart from me forgetting to put that arrow in the ground - whoops!). :)

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